Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Melancholia (2011)

Immediately straight after watching the film that I waste no time to write the review that I find it deserves.

In my own very short summary of the film, it's all about an apocalyptic tale meant for the hipsters demographic. Melancholia is not the type of disaster story you'd like to think you know or expect, which is sort of disappointing for many a curious parties who are more interested in the science fiction behind it. It deals mainly with many themes regarding depression, grief and other related downers that inhibit one's mood.

The film is slow and dramatic even immediately after its opening shot, including the many images at the beginning to slowly introduce its viewers of the drama ahead, utilising in medias res, accompanied by the eerie and ubiquitous musical composition that stirs the depression in you, and surprisingly very Kubrick-esque in its approach, symbolic. It switches the conventional with pizazz, meaning instead of explaining the whole thing thoroughly it leaves one hanging into an artistic point of view, making a person question the idea of sublime surrealism that is (harshly should I put it) shoved into their throats. One begins to wonder the intention, and it works mainly to capture interest, to find out basically the answer for the questions 'Why?' or 'How?'

In my own understanding, Von Trier is known for his insufferable films that have that certain independent movie-making feel that almost always deal about the insufferability itself of humanity in general and its accompanying consequences that affects them both in a physical and spiritual light. This film of his has been marketed as an 'artistic disaster film made by the guy who directed Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark' which appealed me the most having enjoyed the former despite being difficult when I first laid eyes on it. Although I kind of feared at the beginning this whole thing has been sold to all of us under a false pretence of an explosive film a la Michael Bay or Emmerich, having already been fooled of an almost similar concept in the film Monsters, which wasn't actually a monster film by any means but a twisted romance between two characters.

The whole thing revolves around the perspectives of sisters Justine and Claire, played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg respectively, who has to deal with each other an idea of an already-volatile relationship and the sudden implications of a planet that is about to collide with Earth reminiscent to the giant impact hypothesis, or the Theia theory. And yes, this concept almost sounds ridiculous enough to put together. The film is separated into two halves as I mentioned. First part is labelled 'Justine', for Dunst's character, which shows the wedding night party in full bloom with the entire cast complete. This part builds up the mystery and gives many clues as to how the personalities of each characters come to the way they are. The second one is 'Claire' (awesome name) for Gainsbourg's character, Justine's sister, more concentrating on the effects of the planet's inevitable appearance and their relationships as their version of life ends, thus cementing the emotional anxiety-inducing moments to a maximum.

The camera panning is intentionally amateurish and shaky, typical of Von Trier's methods in his previous works, even sometimes unnecessarily. Not that it's a bad thing. It actually gives the audience a bit more personal touch and relation to the ambience.

The first part of the film is heavy on interactions with the many characters present in the wedding, not giving much thought to the impending doom just yet. More on character development, less depression, as hints of daunting madness creeps up slowly towards the middle, with everyone questioning Justine's indifference to them all, excluding that of her demotivated and pessimistic mother, Gaby, played by amazing actor Charlotte Rampling. She seems to be the biggest factor on why Justine is the way she is, and arguably the only denominator on why the film is filled with negativity. It is also on this part of the film that numerous subliminal messages of the inevitable are suggested and come into place; numerous references to the sky and stars are shown, birds, lantern balloons, certain glances upward, even a telescope.

Then it falls properly into order as Justine begins to show her nihilistic approach; denying his groom who is unskilled in speech-making, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), of pleasure whilst giving it to a complete stranger, total lack of respect for his father-in-law, Jack (Stellan Skarsgård), her unwilling cooperation to his temperamental but sensible wealthy brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland), yet longing for her own father's (John Hurt) affection, whose attitude and behaviour is as polarised to her and to her mother in almost every sense. The first part then finishes off without much of a bang but with plenty of gaps to fill and then shifts the stage over to Claire.

The second part is much heavier on the themes than the previous, attacking from the point where the relationships between the sisters are strained, how it affects their alleged emotional breakdowns, and then realising that the world is about to end. The characters are subtracted, merely highlighting with Claire and John's lives as they deal with it along with their son, and soon with Justine. Answers to questions from before are quickly given light but without much explanation, it just comes and goes for no reason. The wonderful cinematography is the main star in this attraction as you begin to understand the urge for something greater than the characters' pleas. For example, in a scene where Justine is being denied by her horse, a frightful premonition, and then the night sky when Claire steps out of the house to find the moon accompanied by an eerie light-blue ball beside it. We then discover about a planet called Melancholia (hence the title), 'the planet hiding behind the sun,' about to collide with Earth during its routine orbital rotation.

It's noted that while it is not officially stated, this part is where the Kübler-Ross model comes into play, or most commonly known as the five stages of grief, how Claire and the others cope with the acceptability of their demise. The audience comes to understand why Justine acts the way she is, not just because of her own mother's influence. It ends in a very anticlimactic fashion, but done so in a very strict artistry that you can almost forgive its overall flaws.

The most biggest gripe I have of the movie is the characters itself. These are the last persons I would like to witness in our planet's impending doom. They are uninteresting in so many sense and that the hardships they endure throughout the film are lengthened to a point that it completely snaps halfway through it. The psychology beneath it is akin to testing the elasticity of rubber, how far it takes before one could say they've had enough. It slowly drags right before it ends and a little bit longer than it should. You may want to root for the planet just to get it over with. It is wonderful if you can immerse yourself in a bittersweet state for very long, but if not then there's clearly no point to it all.

It would have been fascinating to expand on some of the more interesting characters that disappeared after the first half. Von Trier's attempt is surprisingly futile, and excessive at times, although I commend it for being watchable and my attention never strayed away beyond my shoulders. It could have been because the theme of destruction was a little out place, or perhaps it felt slightly forced, or perhaps there could have been a more conventional approach to the climax, or perhaps I am not hip deep enough to understand it all.

Like I mentioned before, this is the ultimate hipster's paradise.

Overall: 3.5/5

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